Monday was an emotional day for Hokie Nation as long-time and beloved football coach Frank Beamer officially announced his retirement at the end of the season. But for many of Beamer’s fellow teammates and classmates at Hillsville High School, Monday’s announcement hit especially close to home.
They gathered at Hillsville’s Pizza Perfect to watch the press conference, where emotions ranged from laughter to tears. They reminisced about the old days at Hillsville High and talked about how much Beamer meant not only to Virginia Tech’s football program, but to the university and the entire region. Above all, they just remembered how Beamer never changed. From the days he was a school boy on up to becoming the winningest active coach in college football, he was still just good ole Frank.
“I went to school with him from the fifth grade up to high school and played football with him up until my junior year. He was always an athlete and he always was productive at whatever he did,” said Terry Bolt, who was joined with his wife and fellow classmate Joyce Bolt. “He was just a super nice guy then and he still is today. We have a granddaughter in her second year at Tech. She wanted to meet Frank. We told Frank and asked if he would call her up and he said, ‘Of course, I’d be glad to talk to her.’ We had our 50th class reunion in July. He is always there and he is always Frank. The person he was and the person he is today has never changed. He stops and takes as many pictures as he is asked to and he visits every table. He’s just always been Frank. He never let the success go to his head.”
Joining the Bolts at Pizza Perfect were two more of Beamer’s teammates at Hillsville High School – Jim Marshall and Larry Joe Banks. Also there were Beamer’s classmates Janet Banks, Margie Quesenberry, Mike Bolen and Gary Quesenberry. Along with Beamer, a record-setting quarterback under coach Tommy Thompson at Hillsville High School, Marshall and Banks helped guide the Indians to a school-record eight wins in 1964, a mark that is still the third-best by any football team in Carroll County history. As the tears flowed through Beamer’s eyes during portions of the press conference, so too did they flow through the eyes of Marshall and Banks.
“It was a feeling of mixed emotions for me because I hate to see it end and for Frank, and at the same time he has had a long and storied career there,” Marshall said. “Larry Joe and I, we have been to places we never would have been if not for Frank. We’ve been to New Orleans three times (to watch the Hokies in the Sugar Bowl). We’ve seen the best of Tech and we have traveled and done a lot the last 29 years keeping up with Frank. It started with the bowl win over Indiana in 1993 and then kind of took off in 1995 when they beat Texas in the Sugar Bowl. We went to the national championship game again to New Orleans (in 1999). It’s just been a heck of a ride.”
Speaking of that win over Texas in 1995, local attorney Tom Jackson, who once served as the President of the Virginia Board of Education, told the group how much the victory over the Longhorns did for the university as a whole. He heard it firsthand from the mouth of former Virginia Tech President Paul Torgersen.
“He told me after the win over Texas in the Sugar Bowl that they had to put student applicants on the waiting list for the first time,” Jackson said. “The reason they knew the increase was due to the Sugar Bowl win was because people were calling and asking about the football program when they sent in their applications.”
Beamer’s accomplishments at Virginia Tech are almost too long to list. During his 29 years at the helm of the Hokies, he built a national power from the ground up. During that time, Virginia Tech went from a football program with no conference affiliation to one with three Big East Conference titles, four ACC championships, five ACC Coastal Division crowns, BCS victories in the Sugar Bowl (1995) and Orange Bowl (2008), eight BCS appearances, and a trip to the 1999 national championship game.
The Fancy Gap native was voted Big East Coach of the Year three times, ACC Coach of the Year twice, and national coach of the year by eight different groups in 1999. During that time, Beamer completely transformed the campus and the New River Valley.
“The facilities they have now, Frank is responsible for all those things,” Banks said. “And not just the facilities for football, but the facilities for all sports have improved tremendously because of how successful the football program has been.”
It’s worth noting that prior to Beamer’s arrival in Blacksburg, Virginia Tech was known as a “cow college” and the old joke was “All dirt roads lead to Blacksburg.”
“Now all the roads are paved,” Bolt said tongue-in-cheek, but also paying homage to what his former teammate and classmate built at Virginia Tech.
Margie Quesenberry also couldn’t help but shed a few tears during Beamer’s press conference. Although she has tremendous respect for what Frank accomplished on the football field, she is even more inspired by the way he went about it.
“It was emotional just thinking it is coming to an end. But he is one great guy. He has never gotten above his raising,” Quesenberry said. “He’s just like he was in high school. He’s always had a great personality and he’s always been a great person.”
Allen Worrell can be reached at (276) 779-4062 or on Twitter@AWorrellTCN